Do We Need Magic to Create?

Greetings my dear readers,

I’ve been away for a while, busy with life, and probably will be again very soon.  More on that later.  But for now, I would like to share with you some wisdom I learned while reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield. I first read his book The War of Art a few years back, which talks about fighting against “The Resistance” in order to pursue your creative work and accomplish your goals. He was referring to that inner critic inside your head that provides nothing but negative self-talk. That voice never goes away, but you can learn to quiet it and trust yourself.

I just finished reading another one of his books, Turning Pro, also excellent. Several passages struck me, but one really stood out, especially as it pertains to my word for the year: MAGIC. He talks throughout the book about the amateur vs. the professional mindset and how that can make all the difference. We must let go of self-doubt and procrastination by establishing discipline and striving for excellence. But one question remains.

What about the magic?

He’s referring to flashes of brilliance and moments where we feel the muse speaking directly to us.  Shouldn’t we wait for those moments? His answer is no.

“The monk glimpses the face of God not by scaling a peak in the Himalayas, but by sitting still in silence.”

This is not to say that we should do nothing. On the contrary, we should sit down in the chair every day and attempt to write, draw, design, etc. No matter how we’re feeling. No matter what is on our mind. Because eventually we’ll get there. But waiting around to get there isn’t going to make anything happen. Achieving a moment of greatness won’t do it. We’ll only be waiting for the next moment. But showing up in front of the silence of the blank page will. Every time we face that challenge, we’ll grow stronger, and be more likely to come back again and again to do the work. To make something happen.

“In order to achieve ‘flow,’ ‘magic,’ ‘the zone,’ we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike. We set our palms against the stones in the garden wall and search, search, search until at last, in the instant when we’re ready to give up, our fingers fasten upon the secret door.”

I’m sure you’ve all experienced the magic moment before: The Flash of Greatness. But I’m calling on you to experience something more. It’s the same magic, but there’s another way in, which involves a little more searching, a little extra effort. You get there simply by starting. You’re in the tunnel, and it’s dark, lonely. But you dig anyway. Keep going. Claw your way through. Until you see a light. And before you know it, you’re in the zone, and you’re not even sure how you got there. But you know, if you did it once, you can do it again. Because you’re not waiting for it to show up. You’re going after it.

Find your magic. Find it every day. But don’t wait around for it to appear. All you have to do is begin. Start by playing. The magic will want to play too. It can’t resist. And before you know it, you will have created something unique, dynamic, and all your own. Not perfect, but something you can be proud of. Something born not out of a moment of greatness, but through patience and effort. And that which is created from such a hard-won battle is truly inspiring.

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From Beginning to End

When writing a novel, some people have trouble with how to begin.  Where should the story start?  How much action?  How much dialogue?  Should I include backstory?  Sound familiar?

If this is you, there’s help in the form of a book by Nancy Kress called Beginnings, Middles, and Ends.

I personally struggle with beginnings, so I thought I would take a look and try to learn a thing or two.

Some obvious points:  You want to make sure you have an engaging character.  You also want to make sure your story has conflict.

But if you’ve gotten that far, what could possibly be missing?

  • It’s all in the details.  And not just any details.  Very specific details.  “Details set your opening apart from the hundreds of others similar to it,” says Kress.  Here’s her example.  Don’t just say Mary loves dogs.  Show how she feeds her eighty-pound Lab all the best leftovers every night.
  • Create credible prose.  Meaning, learn how to use the English language in a way that is accurate, interesting, and easily understood.  For example, consider varied sentence structure.  Short sentences pick up the pace and add drama, while longer sentences slow things down and add tension.
  • A note on character: make sure he or she is unique enough to be picked out of a crowd.  Ask yourself, “Would nine out of ten people behave and think like this?”  The answer should be no, otherwise you haven’t conveyed your character to readers in a compelling enough way.  You need to share more and perhaps dig a little deeper into what makes your character unique.

Add these elements with others and you’ll be on your way to having a successful opening scene!  But what next?  Kress suggests toning down the level of conflict in scene two.  You can do this with backstory or flashbacks, but be careful they don’t slow the story down too much.  The key is balance.  You can certainly continue on with more action, but if you’re going to do that, the challenge is to reduce the level of conflict in relation to the opening scene.  Or you could consider introducing conflict in the form of a subplot, but again, make sure it’s not quite as intense as the opening.  It’s all about pacing.

There’s also advice for trouble with murky middles and how to wrap up the ending of your story in a satisfying way.  But we’ll save those tips for another day…  Or better yet, go check out this book!

In the meantime, get started on your story.  Will it be Once upon a time…or perhaps something more unique?  I think you know the answer! 😉

 

 

Stick to the Mission

I recently talked about the importance of giving your story structure.  See my post here.  Today I’m going to share part 2 of that concept.

To maintain the structure you worked so hard to create, you must continue to keep the tension going and build suspense.  But how do you do that?

Remind your readers of what’s at stake.  What is the mission?  This should always be present in some way or another.

The easiest way to do this is through action.  

Ex: The hunter clung to the rock ledge, reaching for the rare flower that would heal her brother’s fatal wound.

But you can also do this while building your character.

Ex: Rubbing her face clean of dirt, she tried to remember what it was like to be a woman in love.  Then she carefully  added the war paint.  A smile played upon her face.  She had a new role now.

Or through setting.

Ex: The rolling hills reflected the setting sun like a shiny new penny.  The road looked rough, but she didn’t mind.  These hills would save her, if they didn’t kill her first.

No matter what you’re trying to do with character or plot, don’t ever let your readers forget what they came for.  THE MISSION.  That’s what drives the story.

Just remember.  As the writer, you’re at the wheel.  So take your readers where you want them to go.